Who are the people looking to be forgotten?

Yesterday, Google released its 13 pages of answers to the 26 questions European regulators presented to Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo late last week. The questions ask how the companies are implementing Europe’s “right to be forgotten” ruling.

In addition to showing how the regulators and the EU’s Court of Justice left the companies with zero guidance about how to navigate this minefield, the answers give the first hints about who the requesters are.

First, the largest number of requesters are French, or at least they reside in that country. About 17,500 individuals from France requested removals of about 58,000 links, not far above the 16,500 requests from Germany involving 57,000 URLs.

In this ranking, the UK is in third place as the source country, with about 12,000 requests and 44,000 URLs, followed by Spain (8,000 requests and 27,000 URLs), Italy (7,500 requests and 28,000 URLs), and the Netherlands (5,500 and 21,000 URLs).

In its answers, Google points out that:

“Our webform makes it clear that individuals need to select a relevant country. Practically, individuals will need some connection to that country, which will normally, but not always, mean that they are resident in it. Individuals need to select a country so that we know which country’s law to apply.”

It also noted:

“We do not read the decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) in the case C-131/12 (the “Decision”) as global in reach — it was an application of European law that applies to services offered to Europeans.”

This is a dig at the regulators, whose questions include several asking if the tech giant is restricting its implementation to European domains. The regulators may be considering whether to require that, if Pierre in France requests a link be removed to an article about his much-publicized divorce, the link also be removed from Google.com and all other country domains, not just European versions of Google.

“Fewer than 5% of European users use google.com,” the search engine points out in its answers, “and we think travelers are a significant portion of those.”

The company also reports trends in processing results:

“Removal of around 53% of URLs for which a removal was requested. More information required from requesters for around 15% of URLs for which a removal was requested. Non-removal of 32% of URLs for which a removal was requested.”

Microsoft and Yahoo have not yet responded to our inquiry about whether they will be making their answers publicly available.

The “right to be forgotten” ruling came in May in response to a 2009 complaint by a Spanish lawyer that Google searches led to outdated bankruptcy notices about him. The ruling, by the European Union’s Court of Justice, states that any requesting user can have links removed that result from a search on his or her name if the linked content is inadequate or irrelevant/no longer relevant. The content still remains; only the link resulting from that search is removed.

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